Joseph Tauro, longest-serving judge, to step down from active service, take senior status

US District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro, the first judge to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, announced today he would retire from full-time duties after more than four decades on the bench.

Tauro, appointed by President Nixon in 1972, advised President Obama today that he would step down from regular active service on Sept. 26, 2013.

But Tauro also advised the president he intended to continue to “render substantial judicial service as a senior judge,” the court said in a statement.

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Tauro had served as chief judge of the court from 1992 to 1999.

“Judge Tauro has a lasting legacy as one of the great judges in Massachusetts. He has ruled in favor of protecting the rights of the mentally disabled and of gays and lesbians. With his common sense, he led this court as a wise chief,” said Chief US District Court Judge Patti Saris.

At the same time, Saris said in a statement, just because he is no longer “active” doesn’t mean he will be leaving the bench. “We are all pleased that Joe Tauro will continue to preside over cases as a senior judge,” she said.

Before being appointed to the bench, Tauro served as the US attorney for Massachusetts, chief legal counsel to the governor of Massachusetts, and two years as a guided missile officer in the Army.

He graduated Brown University in 1953 and Cornell Law School in 1956.

Tauro this year became the judge serving the longest in active service on the court since the court was created by the First Congress in 1789, the court said.

In 2010, Tauro ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional because it violated the right of married same-sex couples to equal protection under the law and was contrary to the federal government’s long history of allowing states to set their own marriage laws.

The US Supreme Court this year struck down a key provision of the law, but the court’s ruling came in New York, rather than a Massachusetts, case.

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